Pillars of the Past... "Badger Air Militia celebrates 50 years of service"

  • Published
  • By Technical Sgt. David P. Anderson
  • 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

**This article first appeared in the October 1998 issue of the 115th Fighter Wing’s newsletter, the BAM. It was written by the unit historian, Technical Sergeant David P. Anderson, who is now the director of the Air National Guard’s history program in Washington, D.C. 

The basic point to Charles Darwin's Evolutionary theory is the survival of fittest through adaptation. Although this theory primarily focuses on living species, it certainly can be correlated to almost any entity which presents change and adaptation over a period of time. Certainly, the Wisconsin Air National Guard, specifically the 115th Fighter Wing (FW) can qualify for this consideration. It is hard to believe that our unit has been in the business of defending our state and nation for 50 years. But if you stop to consider all the changes that have occurred in the unit, in our country, and especially in the world, it is not surprising to see us still around. Through these changes, one element has remained the same, the 176th Fighter Squadron (FS) and in a larger form, the 115th Fighter Wing has continued to operate at its highest tempo, continuously adapting to new challenges; whether it be new aircraft, new policies, new missions, or even a new political environment. Our unit has evolved from each challenge through hard work and sacrifice, leadership, and teamwork.

Today, we identify ourselves as the 115 FW giving us the right to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the unit; however, the cornerstone of our legacy is our close ties with the history of the 176 FS. This unit traces its origin to the 306th Fighter Squadron (FS), 338th Fighter Group (FG), U.S. Army Air Force in 1942. The 306 FS flew P-39s, P-40s, P-47s, and P- 51s as a replacement training unit, operating from Dale Mabry Field, Florida. The 306 FS was inactivated in May 1944, then re-instituted and re-designated as the 176 FS on 24 May 1946 and allotted to the Wisconsin National Guard. On 6 Oct 1948, the 176 FS received federal recognition at Truax Field, Madison, Wisconsin. Federal recognition was also extended to units that no longer exist here at Truax, namely the Utility Flight, 176 FS, 176th Weather Squadron (Type A), and Detachment "B" 228th Air Service Group. At the initial formation, the 176 FS consisted of 13 officers and 20 enlisted personnel and was equipped with the North American P-51D Mustang with large amounts of flying time.

The first significant event that made a major impact on our unit's future was the North Korean invasion of South Korea on 25 Jun 1950. In this year, plans were made to conduct the unit's first summer training camp at Oscoda, Michigan from 22 July to 5 August, but orders were received from higher headquarters to prepare ten of our 25 F-51s for shipment to the Korean War zone. (*When the U.S. Air Force was established as a separate branch in 1948, fighter aircraft designations were changed from P-Pursuit to F-­Fighter). Several of our aircraft maintenance personnel worked overtime to get these aircraft ready. All ten aircraft arrived safely in Korea without an incident. Our unit was the first to do so and showed the first real evidence of the superior aircraft maintenance and dedication this unit would demonstrate. Due to the shortage of ten aircraft, the 176 FS borrowed aircraft from other Air Guard units in order to successfully complete their 1950 summer training requirements.

In Feb 1951, just two years and four months after the unit's federal recognition, the 176 FS was called to active duty in support of the Korean War effort, however the unit remained at Truax Field. In addition to the unit losing ten aircraft the previous year, supplies became a problem. Since winter in Korea was very harsh, all winter supply requirements were prioritized to personnel fighting there. Consequently, several unit personnel worked outdoors in frigid temperatures averaging 15 degrees below zero without proper winter garments such as parkas, gloves, winter coveralls, cold weather headgear, snow boots, and wool pants. Despite many unit personnel lacking official winter clothing, the aircraft had to be combat ready for flight every day, which they were! Notwithstanding the unit's overwhelming dedication to duty, their appearance from a military perspective was rather poor. The actual "Winter Uniform" on Truax Field flightline included an assortment of civilian winter gear, closely associated with deer hunting clothes. Unit personnel wore whatever winter gear they could find, some personnel even purchased military surplus items at surplus stores, however stocks were very low. Now picture in your mind driving by Truax Field on Highway 51 and seeing a ragged looking bunch of people climbing all over a neat line of F-51s—certainly a sharp military appearance is not your first impression. However, if you recall the appearance of our forefathers who gathered at Lexington, Concord, and other colonial towns in 1775, we’re carrying on a legacy that gained our nation's independence. Thus was born a motto that personnel of the 176th Fighter Squadron proudly adapted, the "Raggedy Ass Militia."

During our unit's active duty tour, they underwent their first aircraft conversion to the Northrop F-89A Scorpion. This conversion allowed the 176 FS to become the first Air National Guard unit to fly the modern all-weather jet fighter. However, besides facing the problems created by changing from an old, well tested propeller driven fighters to a newer and less familiar type of jet engine fighter interceptor, the early variant F-89s were untried and not thoroughly tested to the point where they were completely reliable and capable of sustained operations. In the early months of operations, there were many malfunctions that had to be corrected in order for aircrews to achieve maximum efficiency in the all-weather intercept mission. Yet again, to give credit to our aircrews and maintenance personnel, they were able to successfully retrain in this new type of fighter by eliminating the "bugs" in the complex multi-system of the F-89. Besides becoming the first Air National Guard unit to operate a front line, modem jet fighter, the 176 FS also became the first to become proficient in all-weather intercept missions among all the unit’s operating with this mission. Upon release from active duty in October 1952, the 176 FS returned to state control and reverted to Reserve status. A large percentage of the unit's original personnel remained with the unit to continue training under the Air National Guard program. With the return to state control, the unit converted back to the F-51 Mustang (H Model). In October 1953, the unit was re-designated the 176th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) and again converted to the North American F-86A Sabre, a single engine jet fighter with greater speed and maneuverability than the F-51 or F-89. The flight characteristics and mechanical problems presented by the F-86 were once again met and overcome by our pilots and maintenance personnel. Soon all pilots were qualified, allowing our unit to successfully deploy for summer training at Alpena, Air National Guard Base, Michigan. Then in October 1955, the 176 FS converted back to the F-89 Scorpion and flew this aircraft for the next 11 ½  years, thereby operating this aircraft the second longest time in the unit's history. Moreover, our unit flew and maintained every major production version of F-89 Scorpion (F- 89A, B, C, D, H, J).

In April 1956, the unit received group status with federal recognition as the 115th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG) designation. In addition, the 128th Fighter Interceptor Wing was established to serve as the Headquarters for both the 176th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), 115th Fighter Interceptor Group and the 126 FIS, 128 FIG based at Milwaukee. In May 1966, the unit converted from the F-89J Scorpion to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger, a single engine, single seat supersonic interceptor. Although the 115 FIG flew the F-102 until 1974, a watershed mark occurred for us on 29 September 1972 when the 176 FIS won the F-102 category of the 1972 William Tell Air-to-Air Weapons Meet held at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

In October 1974, the unit underwent a major change in aircraft, mission, designation, and gaining command. The 176 FIS was redesignated the 176th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS), converting to the Cessna O-2A Skymaster observation aircraft. The 115 FIG was redesignated to 115th Tactical Air Support Group (TASG); however, shortly thereafter the 115 TASG designation was inactivated and the unit was redesignated the 128 TASG with Tactical Air Command as its gaining command. As a consequence to the unit's redesignation, the mission changed from air defense to forward air control, directing close air support assets for friendly ground troops. With the new mission came a new language and a new way of life. The unit transitioned from high speed jets to push-pull propeller aircraft and from mass loads to mobility, a facet that still remains with us today. The 128 TASG flew the O-2 until the fall of 1979, when the unit converted to the Cessna OA-37B Dragonfly, becoming the first Air National Guard tactical air support unit to replace its O-2s with the OA-37. In addition, the 176 TASS was the last squadron to phase out of the OA-37B Dragonfly.

In November 1981, the unit converted to the Fairchild A-10A Thunderbolt II close air support aircraft and was redesignated 176th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 128th Tactical Fighter Wing. During an eleven-year span of performing the close air support mission in the A-10, the 128 TFW supported Army units across the United States and overseas. Numerous deployments to Europe and Central America supporting NATO and Southern Command forces demonstrated the wing's readiness for worldwide tasking. During the 11-year period of flying the A-10, our unit received numerous awards. In 1980, we received the Distinguished Flying Award and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, then in 1981 we received the U.S. Air Force Flight Safety Award and again in 1985 and 1986. In 1984, we received another Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and took first place in the A-10 Weapons Load Competition and again in 1985. From 1988 to 1990, we received several more flight safety awards, both from Tactical Air Command and the Air National Guard. Our base facilities were also recognized in 1989 when we received the Best Facilities in TAC Award. Then in 1991, the 128 TFW received the first "Outstanding" rating awarded in the modern history of the Tactical Air Command to a fighter unit (active or Reserve) for a unit effectiveness inspection (UEI).

In June 1992, the unit was redesignated 128th Fighter Wing (FW) under the newly formed Air Combat Command (ACC). In 1993, the 128 FW converted its A-10s to the General Dynamics (Lockheed) F-16C, block 30 "Big Inlet" Fighting Falcon. The A-10 was flown by this unit for 12 years, making it the longest operating system in this unit's history. In July 1995, the unit again was redesignated, but to its original designation, the 115th Fighter Wing. In 1996, the unit changed its name from “Raggy Ass Militia” to the “Badger Air Militia.” Although, this change caused a chill among the rank and file, the new name illustrates this unit's changing image from a ragtag outfit to an effective combat unit that can defend this country with the same capabilities as the active duty forces. In addition, the new name amplifies Wisconsin's history related to the lead miners of the Platteville area, who were stubborn and fiercely protective of their claim similar to the badger animal. Moreover, the change denotes the unit's full partnership in the Total Force Concept. Since converting to the F-16, the 115 FW has received an “Excellent” rating in our first Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) in the new multi-role fighter. Furthermore, this unit has participated in various exercises and deployments, two of which involved worldwide contingencies; Operation NORTHERN WATCH in April 1997 and Operation SOUTHERN WATCH in December 1997. Both of these contingencies were successfully accomplished with all unit personnel and aircraft safely returning to Truax Field.

Over the years, our unit has been recognized many times for its accomplishments and performance. In 1960 and 1965, we received the Operational Readiness Award, then in 1969 and 1973 the Missile Safety Award, the Air Defense "A" Award in 1972, and the Spaatz Trophy for the Outstanding Air National Guard Flying unit in 1973. We received the American Fighter Pilots Association's Winston P. Wilson Trophy for the most Outstanding ANG unit equipped with jet fighter aircraft in 1972. In 1991 the unit was awarded two more Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards as well as numerous Flight Safety Awards. In 1997, the unit was awarded the Environmental Compliance Award.

We of the 115 FW, past and present, should be very proud of our heritage and recognize that our legacy was built on hard work, sacrifice, and dedication by each one us, regardless if any one of unit members is aware of this. Just like the retirees of this unit, we have an obligation to carry our legacy into the next generation by instilling the qualities that make this unit great into every person that joins this unit. For 50 years, we have been evolving, from once a rag tag fancy flying club to a cohesive, well trained, well equipped, highly motivated, and well lead Citizen Airmen organization. Our history can fill volumes of text; however, by presenting the different changes in weapons systems, our commitment to excellence and our legacy is demonstrated through the challenges of new aircraft, new missions, new personnel, new political climates, and organizational structures. It is the people of this unit past and present that have helped the 115th Fighter Wing and the 176th Fighter Squadron continue to evolve for excellence. Truly, we are Dedicated to Excellence—Ready Today, Preparing for Tomorrow.